America Sent the First Man to the Moon, but Can’t Track Police Killings

Protest_against_police_brutality

I started writing this article at a time when hundreds of people were taking to the streets to protest the death of Freddie Gray. Of course, if I had written this article a few weeks before, I would have been writing at the time of the death of Walter Scott; two months previously, I would have been writing at the time of the shooting of the homeless man known as Africa or three months before that, the murder of 12 year old Tamir Rice. I could go on.

In the United States, black men, women, boys, and girls are dying at the hands of the police every week. Let us not underestimate what is happening here; this is, as Dr. Randy Short described it, ‘incremental genocide.’This month, Chicago has become the first U.S. city to have to pay reparations to over 110 mostly African American men, who were tortured into confessions, between 1972 and 1991, by Jon Burge, a police lieutenant, and his subordinates.

We can call these tortures and these deaths whatever we want but what we cannot disagree on is that they are unjust, disproportionately affect a certain race and are predominantly ignored. Despite this blatant oppression and systematic abuse of people’s Human Rights, there are those who are still determined to deflect attention from it or justify it.

They are the people who shout louder about the rioting in Baltimore than they do about the decades of high-level homelessness and unemployment. They are the people who look for any trace of a criminal record on Mike Brown, as if somehow, an unrelated conviction justifies a heavy-handed death sentence. For some it is cognitive dissonance; for others it’s ignorance. Whatever the reason, the outcome is further oppression.

I have been writing for Social Work Helper for over a year now and greatly admire the hard work of the Founder and Editor Deona Hooper in highlighting the rampant racism that still exists in America. It has come to my attention, however, that many of the articles she posts on this topic receive a lot of negative attention from Social Workers who argue that advocating on this issue is not relevant to Social Work.

So what is the role of Social Workers in preventing these deaths and the racism that underpins them?

We know firsthand that the rioting in Baltimore and in Ferguson, and in London after the shooting of Mark Duggan, was a result, not only of poor police-community relations, but of huge societal inequalities. American and British Social Workers know that we live in two of the most unequal nations in the world, not because we read research articles that prove this, it’s because we live and breathe it with our Service Users every day. We sit with the homeless outside the multi-million dollar business head office; we take the young Mother shopping to show her how to make her $30 a week feed her whole family, whilst our politicians spend thousands of dollars on one meal.

As Social Workers, we see what poverty does. We see the corrosive, ubiquitous impact it has on society. Poverty is like a poison that seeps in to every aspect of a person’s life. It leads to the deterioration of physical health, mental health, our environments and our resilience. It leads to drug abuse, alcohol abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.

Yet, two of the richest nations in the world allow a huge proportion of their population to live in poverty. As Nelson Mandela said “overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity, it is an act of justice.” Children’s Social Workers, Mental Health Social Workers and Criminal Justice Social Workers, would have a much reduced strain on their resources if the underlying issue of poverty was addressed. Therefore, we must keep giving a voice to those living in poverty until the current structures are changed and equality is achieved.

We know that poverty is a man-made injustice in the USA and Britain. So, what does it say when statistics show that you are less likely to live in poverty if you were born with white skin? There is a complex, yet undeniable role that racism plays in poverty demographics.  In Britain, people from a Black or Minority Ethnic group are more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be paid below the living wage and more likely to be discriminated against at work.

This is only the very tip of the iceberg of a plethora of unequal treatment that runs through healthcare, mental healthcare, legal aid and education. Sometimes the inequality and discrimination is obvious, sometimes it is not; but the inequality is everywhere. Put simply, we cannot address poverty without acknowledging racism and we cannot call ourselves affective Social Workers without tackling poverty.

Being an effective Social Worker isn’t about filling in your paperwork better or faster than everybody else, it is about identifying the areas in which the people you work with are discriminated against, disadvantaged and oppressed while fighting to remove those obstacles.

Deona does not profit or get paid from this magazine, yet she continues to run an online international magazine which has over 80,000 followers on Facebook alone. When I asked her what motivates her to advocate nationally on issues of racism, she said: “I do it because I care… I feel that if I don’t stand on this issue important to my community in the Social Work world none of the other Social Work platforms located in the U.S. will.”

As a perfect example of the innate racism I have just described, Deona receives an enormous backlash for her selfless and important work. The Social Work Helper Facebook page was purposefully trolled by conservative Social Workers who all gave it one star ratings in an effort to drive the ratings down for the page. Eventually, Deona removed the Facebook ratings feature to prevent this type of nuisance. This is an effective tactic for companies and product pages to motivate change. However, Deona explained that Social Work Helper is free information and resources that people can choose to use or not use.

Apart from the actions of the conservative Social Workers being petty and hateful on a personal level, they are in fact part of the wider problem. If you silence oppression, you yourself are an oppressor. As a woman, I know what it is to have an invisible war waged against you. When people laugh at the fact your colleague makes sexist jokes at your expense, you’re told to take it as a joke; be quiet; stop complaining. As a result, those who did not even tell the joke – or pull the trigger on the innocent black man – provide the perfect environment for the oppression to continue unchallenged.

This is not an issue of black people versus white people. It’s an issue of those who recognize that racism affects us all versus those who don’t. Racism means we don’t get the best Teachers or Scientists because they were locked out of education from an early age due to their race. It means more crime and social problems for everyone. When I talk about race, as a white woman, it’s often deemed irrelevant. What does she know, she’s white? My family and loved ones are black. Racism affects me too.

What if the best Doctor in the world, who could save my Mum from a life-threatening illness, was shot dead at 15 by a Police Officer because he was black? Regardless of that person’s potential, treating another human being differently because of the way they were born is very simply wrong. Racism makes the world a poorer place, and we all feel that.

We all have to take responsibility for racism. The onus to solve this enormous problem cannot be on those who are victims of racism, much in the same way that we wouldn’t expect the victims of Domestic Violence to solve the issue of Domestic Violence. Dialogue is better than monologue and articles, such as the ones posted on Social Work Helper, are an ideal platform to start that dialogue.

If you are reading this, as one of the Social Workers who has stated that racism is not the cause to the rioting in Baltimore, or Ferguson, then you are, either through choice or ignorance, ignoring the facts. If you truly believe racism doesn’t exist, the very most that means, is that you haven’t opened your eyes to it. You are the reporters who insisted that the nooses hanging from the tree at Jena High School, after six young black boys sat under it, were a rodeo joke and nothing to do with the legacy of lynchings.

You may not want to talk about racism, but when you don’t, the result is the rioting we are seeing in Baltimore today. It is the rioting we saw in London in 2011 and it is the rioting we will see again next month.

The Ferguson police force were proved, beyond reasonable doubt, to have racist views. When a white man with racist views, kills an innocent black man through fears of the black stereotype, that is a racist killing. The rule appears to be, that if you are in Police uniform when you kill someone, it is not only justifiable to wrongfully kill someone, but to some degree, it was the victim’s fault and the black community’s fault.

I have three nephews, aged ten and below, who are of African descent. By Police standards, they would be considered to be black. I am thankful everyday that they are being raised in England and not the U.S.A. And whilst England too is plagued by racism throughout the criminal justice system, I can rest easy knowing that summary executions of young black men by the Police are the exception here, rather than the rule. I cannot even begin to imagine the anguish parents of black children feel every day across the U.S.A. knowing that regardless of that fact their son has never committed a crime, he one day may not come home because he refused to stop for a police officer.

Aside from the economic racism, there is a potent institutional racism within our Police forces that I have written about countless times before. In England, Sir David McNee, then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, defending the actions of the Special Patrol Group (SPG), said to a black journalist “I understand the concern of your people. But if you keep off the streets of London and behave yourselves you won’t have the SPG to worry about.”

In 2003, Las Vegas Police Officer Brian Hartman shot and killed unarmed Orlando Barlow in the back, as he was on his knees and attempting to surrender. Hartman and the other officers in his unit celebrated the shooting by printing up t-shirts depicting Hartman’s rifle and the initials B.D.R.T. (Baby Daddy Removal Team), a racially charged term and reference to Barlow. The country that sent a man to the moon, decades ago, has admitted that it can’t keep track of the number of people killed by police officers. In a country such as America, this should be a very simple statistic to acquire.

You stay quiet about all this if you really want, but don’t call yourself a Social Worker. Don’t ever silence others who are courageous enough and determined enough to say what needs to be screamed from the top of all of our lungs.

When it comes to racism, sexism, or any other form of oppression, you can continue to tell us to sit down and shut up, if you really want, but we won’t ever be quiet. I can guarantee that it is you that will be on the wrong side of history.

Social Work Students Respond to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement and the Neutrality of Social Work Program Administrators

UC Berkeley Social Welfare graduate students stand in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and we are speaking out against nationwide police brutality and systemic violence against the Black community. As students and as social workers, we feel a responsibility and an obligation to issue a statement in support of the community action and the demands issued by the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Our criminal justice system continues to fail the Black community. It is intolerable that the lives of Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, McKenzie Cochran, Kimani Gray, and countless other Black men and women were taken by individuals who took an oath to protect and serve them.

tumblr_mz6ujyfZXV1qm0yhvo1_500The criminalization of and violence against Black men and women speaks to larger systems of racism and oppression that we, as social workers, are ethically bound to interrupt. Students questioned the school’s response after the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare administration had not formally issued a statement.

The silence has been deafening, and it has been particularly felt by the Black community throughout the institution. This lack of support on campus for students of color is disgraceful, and completely unacceptable, especially for an institution such as Berkeley that prides itself on diversity, inclusion, and a history of activism.

We join our social work colleagues from Columbia University, Portland State University, Washington University, Smith College, and numerous other schools and organizations that have made public statements to call for community members to demand social reform. As students at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, we too will use our voices to break the silence that pervades our academic community and act on the principles of social justice that we have been discussing in our classroom.

We are in solidarity and thankful to participate in the actions and healing spaces that Berkeley students and community members have organized: The Black Student Union action on December 4th, the walkout organized by the Black Student Union at Berkeley HS on December 10th, the organizing efforts that brought the Millions March Rally from Berkeley to Downtown Oakland on December 13th, and the December 15th  “Not On Our Watch” silent protest organized by the Black Staff and Faculty Organization (BSFO), a response to the effigies which were hung in Sproul plaza. Our goal is to uphold the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s focus on disrupting white supremacy, and we must acknowledge how Black people are mistreated in the United States, including on the UC Berkeley campus.

We invite the Berkeley Social Welfare administration as well as other Schools of Social Work to discuss how our programs can better model social work praxis and include the #SSWBlackLivesMatter organizing movement in their plans for Spring 2015. We will continue to mobilize, and we are prepared to take action on our campus and within our community – because at the end of the day, #BlackLivesMatter.

Media Contact

Ariana Allensworth | ariana.allensowrth@berkeley.edu

UC Berkeley MSW Graduate Student Body

Why the Grand Jury Decision in Ferguson Will Continue to Lead to Violence

Everything I say below has been said before, but I want to make it clear that mine is yet another voice from outside of the United States added to the millions of others who are despairing about the events currently unfolding in America.

There is a recurring dream I have where someone I trust betrays me and the betrayal fills me with hurt and anger. The specifics of what that person has done changes from dream to dream but the feeling of intense pain is consistent.

when-you-areIn my dream, I pour my heart out to the person who has hurt me, explaining why their actions have caused so much damage. The offender responds by ignoring me and turning their back. The simple gesture of them turning their back on me almost hurts more than the original betrayal and the pain intensifies through sheer frustration as my suffering remains ignored.

Watching the protests, both in America and London, at the decision of the Grand Jury not to prosecute the Police Officer who shot Mike Brown, I was reminded of that dream. As I watched Mike Brown’s Mother receive the verdict, I saw a second wave of pain flow over her, almost as if she were receiving the news of her son’s death for the first time. Whilst most of us knew that the verdict would not have gone any other way, we all, deep-down held hope that for once- just for once- the outcome might be different.

But of course it wasn’t different, and now citizens across America, as well as those watching the events on television all around the world, are left with feelings of confusion, anger and frustration.

The verdict seems to have re-taught us a lesson which we hoped was out of date. The verdict taught us that some lives are not as valuable as others and that the law does not protect everyone equally. To know that your son, if he is a black male, can be shot and killed by a Police officer whilst he holds his hands up in surrender, and then know that the law will do nothing to prosecute his killer, is the ultimate sign that the law will not only hurt you, but it will ignore your pain.

When placed in the situation where your demands for justice are rejected through “legally accepted channels”, what options are you left with?

I, personally, would never advocate for violence. However in the face of such apparent powerlessness, as we see in Ferguson, I understand why people may resort to rioting.

The facts are this: Firstly, a young man was killed by the state. Secondly, history and personal experience tells us that the police, courts and politicians do lie, again and again. Thirdly, the statement given by Darren Wilson was flawed, and at the very least Mike Brown’s family should expect a thorough investigation and fair trial.

Without this, we cannot simply ask people to accept the verdict and move on. If we ask people to accept the verdict then we are asking them to accept that Mike Brown deserved to die. We would be asking them to accept the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. All of these deaths were unjust and collectively we know and feel that injustice deep-down. We know, as Andrew Boyd says, that our “destiny is bound with the destinies of others.”

Serious work must start now to create a law enforcement system that people can trust; that people know not to be racist and that does not kill an unarmed man. If these problems are not addressed then peaceful protest will no longer be an option for many for whom the injustice hurts too much.

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